The planning and design of integrated municipal solid waste management (MSWM) systems requires accurate environmental impact evaluation of the systems and their components. This research assessed, quantified and compared the environmental impact of the first stage of the most used MSW container systems. The comparison was based on factors such as the volume of the containers, from small bins of 60-80. l to containers of 2400. l, and on the manufactured materials, steel and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Also, some parameters such as frequency of collections, waste generation, filling percentage and waste container contents, were established to obtain comparable systems. The methodological framework of the analysis was the life cycle assessment (LCA), and the impact assessment method was based on CML 2 baseline 2000. Results indicated that, for the same volume, the collection systems that use HDPE waste containers had more of an impact than those using steel waste containers, in terms of abiotic depletion, global warming, ozone layer depletion, acidification, eutrophication, photochemical oxidation, human toxicity and terrestrial ecotoxicity. Besides, the collection systems using small HDPE bins (60. l or 80. l) had most impact while systems using big steel containers (2400. l) had less impact. Subsequent sensitivity analysis about the parameters established demonstrated that they could change the ultimate environmental impact of each waste container collection system, but that the comparative relationship between systems was similar. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.